Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Raw Report

Date: 07/28/08 from Washington, DC.

The Big News: There’s a new Raw general manager, and what a general manager he is.

Show Analysis:

John Cena came out to start the show. He said that he knew there would be consequences for hitting Batista, and told Batista he could come out and settle the matter. Batista made his entrance in a Wes Unseld throwback since he’s from DC. Of course, that’s the only Bullets throwback anyone wears. If he really wants to show his DC ties he should sport a Bernard King throwback next time.

Batista said he watched the tape and knew that Cena hitting him was an accident. Thank goodness Batista isn’t averse to violence like SoCal Val. Batista said he likes and respects Cena, and that after he wins the title he will give the first shot to Cena. Cena responded that Batista has already had two shots so he shouldn’t necessarily get the next shot. Batista said CM Punk doesn’t have what it takes to beat him and neither does Cena. Cena suggested Batista vs. Cena for Raw.

Shane McMahon came out, and said that the new Raw GM would be announced later in the show. He said the GM made a match between Punk and the hottest free agent in the business. Oh my God. They stole Fedor from Affliction. Hopefully they don’t have to negotiate a new deal to get him to appear on next week’s show. The new GM also made Cena and Batista vs. JBL and Kane.

I really liked this opening segment. I liked that the wrestlers were in some stage between wanting to kill each other and being best friends, since it feels more real and it allows for more of a story arc. I also liked the fact that Batista had a rational reaction to what happened last week and that the tensions between Batista and Cena felt natural. I also would have liked the fact they teased Batista vs. Cena and didn’t deliver on Raw, but delivering at SummerSlam is only marginally better.

Santino Marella and Beth Phoenix beat D-Lo Brown and Kelly Kelly. Santino hit a neck breaker on D-Lo and went for a fireman carry. He couldn’t get D-Lo up, so Beth tagged in and lifted him up to the shock of Santino. Kelly tagged in and hit punches and kicks until Beth cut her off with a back breaker. Santino asked to tag in, and rolled up Kelly for the win. Santino celebrated heartily, but an awkward situation developed when he hugged Beth. As Santino started to leave the ring, Beth pulled him back in by the hair and kissed him. I love this angle.

Shane McMahon and JBL met backstage. JBL asked Shane how Vince is doing, but Shane just asked JBL what he wanted. JBL said that Batista and John Cena don’t deserve the next title shot against CM Punk. Instead, JBL suggested the title shot should be his. Shane told him to take it up with the new GM, at which point he received a call from said GM who had changes to be made to a match.

Ted DiBiase and Cody Rhodes beat Jerry Lawler and Michael Cole. Hacksaw Jim Duggan was to be Lawler’s tag team partner, but the new GM changed the match. I guess that made Dusty Rhodes, Ted DiBiase and Jim Ross “suspects” for the new GM position. All, incidentally, would have been better than the ultimate selection.

Lawler fought off Rhodes and DiBiase with punches. Rhodes hit a bulldog off the second rope, but Lawler came back with punches. He went for the piledriver on Rhodes, but DiBiase broke it up. Cole tried to help Lawler up, but the referee said this constituted a tag. Rhodes pulled Cole into the ring, and hit the clothesline of death on Cole. Cole was never heard from again.

Kofi Kingston beat Jamie Noble. Mike Adamle came out to do commentary, which of course led to the return of Jamaican Me Crazy. Noble before the match said that he is the rising star of Raw and that he would prove he is the ideal Intercontinental champion to his “part-time girlfriend associate kind of girl” Layla. He challenged Coffee Kingston to a match. Noble hit a body slam, a move which Adamle didn’t appear to know the name of. Kingston used a side Ghanan leg sweep, high leg drop and trouble in paradise for the pin.

CM Punk beat the returning William Regal. Punk used some knees early while Regal fired back with punches and kicked Punk’s head into the post. Punk bled from the nose, and Regal followed with punches, kicks, a full nelson and a cobra clutch. Regal hit an awesome looking move that looked kind of like a dragon suplex into an exploder, but Punk moments later hit the GTS for the pin.

After the match JBL came into the ring and ended up laying out Punk after an unintended distraction from Kane. This was a really fun short match. When Regal is motivated, he is really great. He also has a style that’s different from just about all other WWE wrestlers, which is a big positive for him.

Chris Jericho and Lance Cade hosted the final episode of the Highlight Reel. Jericho said that he has taken his life to a different level. He was a showman for most of his career because that’s what he thought people wanted. He became a talk show host rather than world champion. Jericho said he won’t follow that route any more, and that he is embarrassed by his comic past.

Jericho said that what he did to Michaels was better than the rest of his career combined, and what he did to Michaels he did to the fans. Cade added that his career was floundering before Jericho saved it. He added that he will be forever grateful to Jericho. Jericho concluded by saying he deserves a title shot. Jericho’s turn has been very carefully and thoughtfully constructed. I hope it works.

Mickie James beat Jillian Hall. Jim Ross joined the announce team, making it a three man booth. Jillian hit a handspring elbow, neck breaker, and applied the dragon sleeper. Mickie won with a Thesz press and implant DDT. After the match, Katie Lea jumped Mickie in front of her father who was in attendance. Katie said that she would be the next women’s champion and Paul Burchill would be the next Intercontinental champion.

John Cena and Cryme Tyme met backstage. Cryme Tyme told Cena that he can’t trust Batista. Batista showed up and told Cena to stay out of his way in the main event. With a hat tip to Houston Mitchell, what I’d like to see with Cryme Tyme and Cena is for JBL to offer to buy off Cryme Tyme to turn on Cena, since they’re all about the money. Cryme Tyme then demonstrate their integrity by refusing to do so. It’s a natural story that would get Cryme Tyme over more as faces and establish more strongly the partnership they’re trying to create with Cryme Tyme and Cena.

John Cena and Batista beat JBL and Kane. The heels worked over Cena. Cena came back with a DDT and tagged Batista. Batista used punches, clotheslines and a spine buster on JBL. However, Kane pulled down the ropes as Batista was bouncing off. The heels then worked over Batista. JBL went for the clothesline from hell but Batista caught him with a spear. JBL accidentally punched Kane, so Kane grabbed JBL by the throat. In the midst of this chaos, Cena tagged in and used the FU on Kane for the pin.

After the match, Shane McMahon announced that the new general manager of Raw was in fact, Mike Adamle. Maybe they were determined to use an American Gladiators host and couldn’t come to terms with Hulk Hogan. Or Laila Ali. Or they signed Laila Ali to be GM but they told her they already had someone with that name so she would have to be Sonya “Rocket” Buster and she quit. In any event, Adamle announced Cena vs. Batista for SummerSlam.

Final Thoughts:

For the most part, I really enjoyed this show. I liked the angles, the wrestling and the humor. I didn’t like the ending, however. First, there’s the Mike Adamle as GM thing. My thinking on this is that Adamle has been turned into such a goofy character that it is likely to hinder serious angles when he is playing the role of GM. But we will see how he does, as there isn’t much to suggest how he as a performer will do.

The second and bigger issue to me is putting together Cena vs. Batista at SummerSlam. When I first got into wrestling, the big appeal was larger than life confrontations that felt special and important. Cena vs. Batista is one of those rare matches that they haven’t done. It’s two of their biggest stars, and two guys that rose up at basically the same time. Built properly, they could make this into a huge deal.

Instead, they are putting the match together with little thought and three weeks build. If they built this match slowly over time, it’s the sort of thing that could eventually become a really big deal. If I could wave the magic wand and change one thing about the nature of WWE booking, it would be to infuse the writing team with an interest in long term build. And this Batista-Cena program is the perfect example.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Raw Report

Date: 07/21/08 from Uncasville, CT.

The Big News: Santino Marella and Beth Phoenix find each other oddly irresistible.

Show Analysis:

At the beginning of the show, Batista was shown leaving the production truck. There was no reference to Shane or Stephanie McMahon, which is odd given last week was clearly booked as if to set up an intervention this week. The episode description for Raw even said that the McMahons’ plan to reel in Raw would be revealed. I’m not sure why they changed plans.

Batista made his way to the ring and blamed Kane for costing him the title. He said that since Shane and Stephanie weren’t there, he was putting himself in charge and making Batista vs. CM Punk for the title. JBL appeared on the screen and pointed out Batista already had his title shot and didn’t win. JBL noted that he beat John Cena and said he deserves the next title shot at SummerSlam. Punk came out and said he wants to prove he can beat Batista, so he accepted the title match for Raw. JBL was livid but Batista had his mic cut.

Shawn Michaels’ music played, but the crowd sensed something was up because there wasn’t much of a pop. Lance Cade then came out and invited Michaels to join him. Cade defeated Paul London in a short match with a back breaker, shoulder block and sit down power bomb, and again called out Michaels. The announcers played up that Cade was trained by Michaels, but not that London was as well or that he was looking for revenge.

Cade called for Chris Jericho to join him. Jericho said that Michaels wasn’t coming, and that what happened to Michaels is on the fans. Michaels wanted to please the fans, and now his career is over with a detached retina that will prevent him from seeing properly for the rest of his life.

Jericho admonished the fans, saying he came back to save them but that they don’t deserve to be saved. Jericho said he is proud of what he did to Michaels, and that he is saved for getting rid of Michaels. Jericho was very good here. This program really has been booked perfectly for Bryan Danielson to come in with a big push immediately.

Beth Phoenix beat Kelly Kelly. Beth is still a heel, and it would be apparent later in the show where they were going with last week’s Beth/Santino angle. Beth slammed Kelly into the turnbuckle and hit a body slam. Kelly fought back with forearms, a whirly bird, and a dropkick. Kelly went for the handspring elbow but Beth caught her and set up for the glam slam. Kelly rolled out but Beth held on and hit the glam slam for the pin. They gave Kelly a surprising amount of offense here.

Hacksaw Jim Duggan announced that he is thinking about retirement. He said that he has had a great run, made a lot of friends, and survived cancer. However, he feels that Ted DiBiase and Cody Rhodes may be right that time has passed him by. The crowd didn’t want Duggan to quit, but Duggan said he just wanted to say thanks.

Jerry Lawler interrupted him, and said there is no age limit in WWE. Lawler posited that Duggan should continue for as long as he enjoys wrestling. Lawler noted Duggan’s presence gets people to chant U.S.A. This made Duggan happy. He said he doesn’t want to give up wrestling, and thanked Lawler.

This brought out the dastardly DiBiase and Rhodes. DiBiase made fun of Lawler for dating girls younger than him, and said both Lawler and Duggan need to retire. Rhodes said that when Duggan won the Royal Rumble he was two and a half and when Lawler slapped Andy Kaufman he wasn’t even born. Lawler offered to show him what the moment was like and slapped him. This was a great angle. Duggan has done a tremendous job the past two weeks.

John Cena and Cryme Tyme beat JBL, Cody Rhodes and Ted DiBiase. The heels worked over JTG forever. JBL used a clothesline and shoulder block and DiBiase used a body slam and double foot stomp off the second rope. JTG finally tagged Cena who came in with the Cena slam on DiBiase and spear on JBL. JBL left and Cena hit the double FU on the tag champions for the pin.

I get that they wanted to put Cena over strong after last night, but I really disliked this finish. They are in the process of pushing DiBiase and Rhodes and this is the sort of loss that conditions fans not to take them seriously. If JBL was going to leave, they could have just booked Cryme Tyme and Cena to comically beat them up 3 on 2 and it wouldn’t do nearly the damage of Cena beating them by himself.

Katie Lea and Paul Burchill beat Kofi Kingston and Mickie James. Kofi did a bunch of his jumping moves, but Katie distracted him and Paul hit a chop block. Paul worked over Kofi’s leg. Kofi went for a kick on Burchill but hit the ring post on the outside, and Paul hit a neck breaker for the pin.

Jamie Noble and Layla were chatting backstage. Batista wanted to find Kane. Noble kind of blew him off, so Batista choked Noble and told him to let Kane know that he is looking for him. Elsewhere, Punk said he doesn’t want to hold onto his title through technicalities. If he goes down, he wants to go down swinging. JBL interrupted and said that at SummerSlam he plans on wrestling the champion. Punk pointed out his first successful title defense came against JBL.

Santino came to the ring and said that his challenge last week was to men, not women. He challenged any man to come fight him. D-Lo Brown made his return. He didn’t get much of a reaction, although he did get some chants during the match. D-Lo hit a slam, leg drop, clothesline and the frog splash for the pin. After the match, Beth attacked Santino. They struggled for a while, and then they kissed. They then both backed off, confused by this turn of events.

Batista beat CM Punk via disqualification. Kane attacked Batista before the match and gave him a choke slam. Punk made the save and knocked Kane out of the ring. The match started and Punk did well for himself. He hit kicks, forearms, elbows, knees, a neck breaker and a bulldog. Batista responded with a spine buster and spear.

JBL then ran in for the DQ and gave Batista the clothesline from Hell. Cena came out to fight JBL but accidentally nailed Batista. Batista went for the Batista bomb on Cena and Cena went for the FU on Batista. Neither man succeeded and they had a pull apart brawl at the conclusion of the show.

Final Thoughts:

This was a decidedly average, cookie-cutter version of Raw. It felt booked mostly just to maintain the status quo. It wasn’t a bad show by any means, but it was uneventful. It would appear they are setting up a multi-person title match for SummerSlam. Perhaps there will be a 6 man Hell in a Cell. Finally, if they want to get Punk over, they are going to eventually need to start putting him over. This role of continually getting lucky is not doing him any favors.

Monday, July 14, 2008

WWE Raw Report

Date: 07/14/08 from Raleigh, NC.

The Big News: A strong edition of Raw concluded with a silly angle.

Show Analysis:

Shane and Stephanie McMahon appeared at the beginning of the show, annoyed that their pleas for unity have been ignored. They reiterated this desire for unity, and threatened action if they are ignored. The premise that the owners of a wrestling company don’t want conflict on their show is pretty silly.

To show that they are still being ignored, the cameras immediately cut to a brawl between Chris Jericho and Shawn Michaels. Kane then came out with a bag. He apologized to Jerry Lawler and Michael Cole and then left. As Mike Goldberg would say, that Kane is pure class. Less classy were Michaels and Jericho, who continued fighting backstage.

Mickie James beat Katie Lea. Katie pulled Mickie by the hair, and then we got what will make for the greatest gif in the history of the internet. The camera zoomed in really close on Katie’s cleavage as she seemingly smothered Mickie with her breasts (she had a headlock on). Words cannot do this mesmerizing sight justice. Anyway, Mickie came back with the huracanrana and Charlie Thesz press off the top for the pin.

Kofi Kingston beat Paul Burchill. After Katie and Mickie’s match, Katie and Paul Burchill went after Mickie. Kofi made the save and issued an impromptu challenge to set up this match with Mickie and Katie in the corners. Kofi used a series of leap frogs, a dropkick, punches, a clothesline, a side Ghanan leg sweep and a high leg drop. Katie got up on the apron, but Mickie pulled her off and Kofi hit trouble in paradise for the pin.

Santino and Matt Striker met backstage. Santino said he had an open invitation for the entire locker room to fight him, and that he would beat someone up. Kane showed up and asked Santino where CM Punk was. “Did you try the Pepsi machine,” responded Santino. I cackled in laughter. Kane found Punk, and said that he knows “he” is dead. Kane wanted Punk in the ring one-on-one. Punk accepted in order to prove himself. Punk asked Kane about the bag but Kane just laughed and walked off.

John Cena cut a promo backstage. JBL apparently challenged Cena to a New York City parking lot brawl in Long Island. Cena cut a serious promo about the match, putting it over as a horrible war where two men fight in a parking lot surrounded by cars. Cena talked about the violence of the match and threatened to do horrible things to JBL. He accepted the match and then challenged JBL and two partners to wrestle Cena and Cryme Tyme on Raw. He concluded, “You want some, come get some.”

This was a tremendous promo by Cena. The material was much better and the serious delivery works significantly better for him. He really needs to pattern himself more in this style than the annoying comedy they write for him. Cena is such a phenomenal performer that if they give him good stuff he will excel with it. I also really like the pairing of Cena with Cryme Tyme. It helps all three. Cena gets more credibility as a “street” character and Cryme Tyme are positioned as serious threats.

Santino came to the ring and wanted to know who had the canoles to accept his challenge. He said they would be deaf meat. Beth Phoenix of all people came out. She hit punches, a body slam, and after Santino missed a charge in the corner she rolled him up for the pin. I don’t know about turning Beth face. It’s not the right role for her.

Kelly Kelly came to the ring, but Ted DiBiase and Cody Rhodes interrupted her and told her to leave. So she left. Cody said that they aren’t bad people, but actually good people and better than their fathers. They reiterated that they are so talented they don’t have to pay dues. Hacksaw Jim Duggan came out, and said he has known them and their fathers for years. Duggan said that he always appreciated the people who paved the way. Duggan put Rhodes and DiBiase over as performers, but said as people they have got a lot of growing up to do.

Duggan started to leave, but Cody said, “Let’s talk about this.” He said that Duggan made some valid points, but then made fun of Duggan for being old and trying to relive glory days that weren’t all that glorious. DiBiase called Duggan pathetic and said that if anyone needs to grow up it’s Duggan. Duggan was very sad, and they left.

JBL appeared on the screen, and got DiBiase and Rhodes to team with him in the main event. Duggan did a great job here, both in what he said and his reactions to what Rhodes and DiBiase said. The putting down of Duggan was so much more effective than beat him up, and it was very smart of the writing team to recognize that would be the case.

CM Punk beat Kane via count out. They had a text poll on which champion is most at risk Sunday. They really pushed that it would be Punk, and the poll results agreed, which suggests Punk is retaining. Punk and Kane traded punches and kicks. Punk hit a roaring elbow, spinning back fist, high kick, enzuigiri, high knees and a crossbody off the top. Michael Cole made the baffling assertion that the longer the match went the more it would favor Kane. So he’s never watched an MMA fight. Or a boxing match. Or any sort of real physical competition.

Punk went for the GTS, but Kane escaped. Kane went for the choke slam, but Punk escaped. Punk hit a bulldog off the apron on Kane, and Kane was counted out. Kane threw chairs into the ring after the match and attacked Punk. He went to break Punk’s neck with a chair, but Batista made the save with a spear. Punk offered to shake hands, but Batista said he’s not Punk’s friend and was just protecting his title shot. Punk shoved Batista and Batista laid out Punk with a spine buster, further suggesting Punk’s title is safe for now.

Chris Jericho beat Paul London. Jericho hit a head butt, kick to the head, clothesline, double arm suplex into a back breaker, and applied the Walls for the tap. After the match Jericho cut a silly promo with a serious delivery. He said that London can follow Shawn Michaels’ path to deceit, lies, disgrace and pain or follow his road to honor, integrity and greatness. Michaels came out and said that while Jericho doesn’t know the meaning of righteousness or truth, he is right that at the Bash the worst is yet to come.

Jamie Noble backstage suggested to Layla that they could be Raw’s power couple. Layla said that she doesn’t date short men, so the rumors of Kevin Nash joining the WWE writing team may be true. Noble said he would prove himself by beating up the next guy to arrive. It was Snitsky, and Noble challenged Snitsky to a fight in the ring. In the ring Snitsky kicked Noble in the head and laid him out with a pump handle slam. Layla seemed sympathetic towards Noble so maybe they will get together.

John Cena and Cryme Tyme beat JBL, Cody Rhodes and Ted DiBiase via DQ. The heels worked over Shad and then JTG, until Cena eventually tagged in. He hit shoulder blocks on Cody, and a Cena slam, five knuckle shuffle and FU on DiBiase. He followed with a top rope rocker dropper on Cody and applied the STFU. JBL broke this up with a kick and inexplicably he was disqualified. This was just as bad as that crappy Kofi/Jericho finish. We’ve seen tag partners break up a pin in every tag team match over the last 20 years and no one ever gets disqualified.

After the match, JBL called John Cena to follow him to the back. Cena pursued, and ended up wandering around the parking lot looking for JBL. JBL hit Cena from behind with a pipe, leaned him against a car, and supposedly tried to drive another car straight into Cena’s head. According to WWE.com, Cena was “grazed” by the car and escaped. So fear not, John Cena is not in fact dead via JBL splattering his head apart with a car.

Final Thoughts:

I really liked this show. It was a fun, well-booked show pretty much across the board and a significant improvement from last week. There continues to be a push towards elevating new talent, and we’re starting to see some fruit from that initiative based on crowd reactions.

As for the concluding angle, I always hate the unbelievable vehicle angles. Nobody buys them, so rather than getting heat on the heels it just sends the message that the whole show is fake and thus undermines the matches you are trying to sell.

Finally a couple plugs. First, I’ll be blogging from Affliction Banned this weekend at CBSSports.com, so you can check out my report on the show there. Second, I’ll be on Inside MMA this Friday on HDNet, so you can check that out too.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Raw Report

Date: 07/07/08 from New Orleans, LA.

The Big News: On a very weird edition of Raw, Batista earned the first PPV title shot at CM Punk.

Show Analysis:

Stephanie McMahon started the show by saying that there was chaos last week. She implored the wrestlers to come together and work as one. Stephanie’s speech fit into the theme of the show, which was all sorts of bizarre happenings with no one to steer the ship.

Vickie Guerrero was in the ring to start the show and did her “excuse me” routine. She demanded Punk come out, give back the title he stole, and apologize. Punk came out and got a nice reaction, as they wisely had him play off the heat magnet Vickie. Vickie said Edge’s world is falling apart and Punk ruined her life. Punk said that what goes around comes around and he didn’t do anything to Edge that Edge didn’t do to others.

Vickie said the difference is Edge’s opponents weren’t getting married. Punk said Vickie can find someone else, like maybe Great Khali. Vickie got out of her wheelchair to slap Punk. Punk was going to roll her out of the ring when JBL came out. JBL challenged Punk to a title match. Punk said JBL had his shot and lost.

John Cena came out and cut another really lame comedy promo about JBL making excuses. Cena is a tremendous performer but they’re testing even what he can do with this god awful material. Cena suggested he wrestle JBL for a shot at Punk. Batista joined the proceedings. He said Punk deserves to be champion, but wanted a title shot. Cena suggested a triple threat and that was agreed upon, but then Kane came out and it became a four way.

Rey Mysterio beat Santino Marella. Rey dominated most of the match, with a spinning head scissors, double foot stomp, springboard senton, 619 and splash off the top for the pin. The match wasn’t much and was basically just a showcase for Rey.

CM Punk was doing an interview backstage when all of a sudden a light fell down randomly right in front of Punk. Two workers scrambled to pick it up, and one said “we’re live, you idiot.” This was absolutely hilarious. Snitsky came in and said Punk doesn’t deserve to be champion, so Punk challenged him to a match.

Mickie James and John Cena were chatting when Kelly Kelly came in. Mickie told Cena that Kelly is now Raw’s new diva (after just being drafted from ECW to Smackdown). Cena asked Kelly how she ended up on Raw and whether Teddy Long let her out of her contract. Kelly responded, “We have contracts?” Cena turned to the camera and said “God bless America.” This was funny, but I don’t know about making fun of the fact your show makes no sense and you don’t even care.

Kelly Kelly and Mickie James beat Jillian Hall and Layla. Layla pushed Kelly off the apron, and Jillian threw her by the hair. Jillian went for the handspring elbow, but Kelly dove onto her shoulders and used a victory roll for the pin. The finish was cool.

John Cena and Cryme Tyme destroyed JBL’s limousine for comedy. Cena spray painted “JBL is poopy” on it. I remember the nWo becoming cool for spray painting all the faces. Somehow I don’t think “JBL is poopy” has the same effect. This segment went on a while and was totally pointless.

CM Punk beat Snitsky. Punk hit leg kicks. Snitsky retaliated with stomps and a bear hug. Punk hit an enzuigiri, springboard clothesline, high knee and go 2 sleep for the pin. The crowd was dead. That’s not a good sign for the new champion, but on the other hand this is Snitsky we’re talking about.

Shawn Michaels came out and accepted a match with Chris Jericho. Jericho and Lance Cade joined him. Jericho said Michaels is stupid because he continues to fight on despite serious injuries. Jericho said this makes Michaels the injured legend, but he’ll become a forgotten martyr. Michaels responded that Jericho wants to be him, but no matter what he does he can never be Michaels.

Kofi Kingston beat Charlie Haas. Haas got in a little offense with punches and kicks. Kingston won with the springboard crossbody, high leg drop, and trouble in paradise. After the match, Paul Burchill jumped Kofi Kingston. So yeah, the Intercontinental Title is officially a jobber title. Then they cut to Batista warming up backstage, when a fan ran in front of him and did Batista’s gun pose. Batista smiled incredulously as security chased away this fan.

Batista won a four way over Kane, JBL and John Cena. Batista gave JBL a spine buster, and Kane gave Batista a choke slam. Cena went for the FU on Kane, but JBL kicked Cena in the head. Cena hit the FU on Batista but JBL broke up the pin. Cena went for the five knuckle shuffle on JBL, but Kane cut him off with a clothesline. Cena got the STFU on JBL but Kane broke it. JBL whipped Cena into the steps on the outside. Back in the ring Kane missed a clothesline off the top and Batista speared him for the pin.

After the match, Kane threw a temper tantrum. He repeatedly yelled out, “Is he alive or dead?” Presumably he wants to know if Vince survived the accident, which I guess makes him a prime suspect if you care about that angle. Kane started beating up production people. He dragged Michael Cole into the ring and had Cole up for the choke slam when Jerry Lawler broke it with a chop block. Kane attacked Lawler to end the show.

Final Thoughts:

This was a really bizarre show, and not a good one. It felt like they had no confidence in the new direction of Raw, so they threw out every desperate, crazy idea they could come up with to grab people’s attention. That’s not exactly a good formula for long term business success. Half this stuff was so off the wall I have no idea what to say about it.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Mid-Week Notes

First, wanted to make mention I'm going to be on Fight Network Radio Friday. Show goes 3PM-4PM Eastern/12PM-1PM Pacific and I'll be on at around 3:10PM/12:10PMish.

Second, random hockey thought. I've been seeing a lot of criticism of the Capitals' signing of Jose Theodore and letting Cristobal Huet go. I think they did the right thing. A four year deal at large money wasn't smart in my mind for Huet, and Theodore is a low risk 2 year deal where if he pays off that's great and if he doesn't the Caps have a couple prospects coming along the way anyway, so it's not the end of the world. I'm cool with the situation.

Finally, a memorial fund for James Melroy has been set up at:

James Melroy Memorial Fund
c/o The Press-Telegram
300 Oceangate
Long Beach, CA 90844

If anyone can contribute I know it would be very helpful to James' family.


Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Raw Report

Date: 06/30/08 from Oklahoma City, OK.

The Big News: There’s a new world champion, and I’ve seen him wrestle on more indy shows than Triple H or Edge.

Show Analysis:

At the start of the show, Shane McMahon said that Vince McMahon is in fact really a private person. That line had to be intended as comedy. Shane further declared “we won’t be forthcoming” with his physical condition. This was more fine comedy. Like any real person who was not being forthcoming ever explicitly said that he was not being forthcoming. Shane called for the people to pull together in this time of uncertainty, which was booed. This angle means nothing.

Jim Ross came out to give a farewell statement. It was nice for them to let him speak in Oklahoma and also a smart move to try to counter any potential backlash. Ross said that it was an honor to be at home. He said that he is excited to be the voice of Smackdown, which was booed. He thanked Jerry Lawler and put over Michael Cole as a hard worker and a friend. Cole was of course not warmly received, but he did a good job in his first week. Ross added that he hopes fans will join him on Smackdown.

Edge eventually interrupted (it felt like they missed the cue and Ross was left out there to ramble for an extra couple minutes). Edge criticized Ross for being arrogant and said that nobody cares about him. Edge said now Ross will get to commentate for him, but Ross wasn’t having it. So Edge had the Naturals escort Ross from the building.

Edge pointed out Raw has no GM and no world champion, and added that Raw wrestlers will never have another shot at his title. He gloated and started to leave, but Batista came out. Batista assaulted Edge and laid him out with a Batista bomb. At that point, CM Punk ran out with a referee and cashed in the Money in the Bank briefcase. He hit the GTS and scored the pin. The crowd reaction for this was underwhelming.

Mickie James beat Jillian Hall, who resumed her horrible singing gimmick. It feels kind of unfair that after all the Hogan family drama that it’s Brooke who is still being made fun of. Mickie won the match with punches, a spinning head scissors on the floor and a head kick for the pin.

Rey Mysterio came out for an introduction speech. Lilian Garcia pronounced his name correctly, so props to her. Rey congratulated Punk and said he’s happy to be on Raw. Santino interrupted. He welcomed Rey but said anyone who hides behind a mask is either incredibly ugly (Super Porky), incredibly stupid (Juventud Guerrera) or the Bat Man (Val Kilmer). Santino complained about Rey appearing on the cover of WWE Magazine instead of Santino. Santino finally gave Rey a chance to speak, but Rey attacked him and gave him the 619. Santino was hilarious here.

Punk backstage thanked Batista for the assist and said he feels awesome. JBL came in and asked how Punk could feel good about winning a title by defeating a defenseless man. Who’s the heel here? JBL called Punk a paper champion and an asterisk and challenged him to a title match. Punk accepted.

John Cena came out, and put over his match with HHH as a match that will go down in history. Sure, John. He used the new “WWE universe” phrase which is cheesy as hell. He further talked about how Punk winning the title will go down in history. He noted that he likes Punk because Punk used his brains and would accept a challenge from anyone. He said he should wrestle Punk for the title, and asked fans whether they would rather see Punk face JBL or Cena.

JBL interrupted, and announced he is declaring martial law. I like that as a concept on a number of levels. Having wrestlers resolve their issues rather than general managers makes the wrestlers feel more important. JBL brought in private security, and together they removed Cena from the building. Cena in his promo was off the charts obnoxious. Cena’s promos are frequently scripted in an obnoxious manner, but this one was so bad. He came across as this annoying, dishonest carnie cheerleader.

Cody Rhodes and Ted DiBiase beat Darren Wade and Steve Anthony. DiBiase used his father’s fist drop and Cody hit a DDT for the pin. I like these guys as a heel pairing, but this is going to take time. There was a shocking lack of heat for them. I mean, it’s not like I expected much, but Cody did turn heel last night and there wasn’t even mild booing. Instead they were greeted with deafening apathy.

After the match, Cody said that fans wanted to know why he turned on Hardcore Holly. I saw no evidence whatsoever of that. He continued anyway. He said that paying his dues sucked when he had to carry Holly’s worthless career. Cody added that he’s not patient, and he’s too talented to have to pay dues. DiBiase asserted that young people are nothing but obedient sheep, while they took matters into their own hands.

Jamie Noble introduced himself to Katie Lea. He said he’s going to get respect on Raw prison rules style, by going up to the biggest guy and drawing the line in the sand. Kane was there, so Katie encouraged him to prove his point against Kane. Noble told Kane not to listen to his Larry the Cable Guy tapes without his permission, and told a threatening knock-knock choke. Kane grabbed him by the throat, but Noble kicked him and ran away. Kane chased him to the ring and choke slammed him on the announce table.

WWE has these tacky new “Did you know” graphics, which are nothing but shameless promotional points about WWE business. Come on, WWE, you can find a more organic way to put yourself over. “Did you know” is supposed to reveal interesting tidbits, not trumpet how many video games you’ve sold.

Chris Jericho came to the ring and said he was swindled out of the title and burglarized and the fans cheered at his misfortune. Jericho continued that Shawn Michaels’ eye is a serious problem and he is endangering himself by continuing. Jericho challenged Michaels to a match at the Great American Bash and said he would take something valuable from Shawn Michaels.

Kofi Kingston then beat Chris Jericho via DQ. Jericho slapped him around and worked him over. Kingston came back with a leg drop, but Jericho hit an enzuigiri, bulldog and lionsault. Kingston rolled up Jericho and grabbed the tights, but Jericho rolled through and grabbed the tights himself. At this point, the referee inexplicably disqualified Jericho. The crowd booed and the face/heel dynamic was completely out of whack.

This was such a stupid, crappy finish. Wrestlers have grabbed the tights in tens of thousands of matches and they never, ever get disqualified for it. The referee just refuses to count the pinfall. This made about as much sense as a referee randomly in one match insisting that a four count is needed for a pin. Kingston looked like such a loser celebrating this victory, but Jericho attacked him and went after his eye.

CM Punk beat JBL. JBL’s security was at ringside. Punk used an arm drag and knees. JBL hit a clothesline on the floor and followed with a sleeper. Punk hit a bulldog, high knee and springboard clothesline. John Cena and Cryme Tyme showed up and took out the private security. That allowed Punk to hit go 2 sleep for the pin.

Final Thoughts:

Wow. Okay, so there is a lot to talk about on this show. We will have to see how they follow through, but this might be the most noteworthy edition of Raw in a very long time. After years of burying young talent, this was the week where WWE woke up and made a concerted and obvious effort to reshape the card and get over a bunch of new talent.

This is an exceedingly positive development. WWE booking over the past year or so I think has on balance been pretty good. It hasn’t been inspired, but it has been for the most part logical and not insulting. The big problem has been that the same guys are always on top, and it makes the product feel stale. Well, WWE seems determined to rectify that.

Up and down the card you can see efforts to get over new talent. Lance Cade is associated with Chris Jericho. Cryme Tyme is associated with John Cena. CM Punk, Kofi Kingston, Cody Rhodes and Ted DiBiase are champions. Jamie Noble and Santino Marella appear to be entering into more high profile feuds. As a trend, this is a positive development.

However, WWE if it is going to continue in this direction needs to have patience. They have spent too much time teaching fans that if you’re not a star you don’t mean shit. You can’t overcome that assumption in a week or even a month. It’s going to take a lot of time, and there are going to be growing pains. At first a lot of these guys are going to be greeted with complete apathy. WWE needs to have patience, and see over time which guys appear to be getting over.

This show felt very fresh and new, and that’s a positive. But I don’t think that the returns are going to come in ratings or pay-per-view buy rates immediately. If anything, they may go down in the short term. But there’s nothing that can be done about that. I’m a big advocate of trying to freshen up the card.

In theory, I love what WWE is trying to do. In practice, I’m not quite so enthusiastic. The biggest example of WWE’s new Raw philosophy was CM Punk winning the world title. As far as that particular move goes, WWE doesn’t get high marks. I like the idea of elevating Punk, but I wasn’t a big fan of the execution.

To begin with, Punk has just been buried on ECW. He lost so many times to so many nobodies. He badly needed rehabilitation before getting the title. This is an argument for more in the way of long term booking. If you’re going to elevate a guy, you need to set the fans up for it so when it happens they will be totally into it. If it comes out of the blue, there’s a much greater chance the audience will reject the guy.

I also didn’t like the way Punk won the title at all. He won like a chickenshit. He let someone else beat up the champion and then took advantage like a coward. That’s a clever way to present a heel, but it’s no way for a face to win the title. If they thought enough of Punk to give him the title, they should have done so in a manner that told fans they were serious. The way he used the backdoor to get the title kind of buried Raw as well.

A final note on the Punk title switch is again the two main titles have switched brands. I saved my rant on the concept of the draft this year because I’ve made it before, but I want to make my point on the titles and the draft again.

The notion of a championship is that it proves you are the best at something. If the title doesn’t symbolize that, it’s hard to get people to care to see a championship match. Two titles already undermines the idea of a championship, but at least you can think that one title means you are the best wrestler on Raw and the other means you are the best wrestler on Smackdown.

However, when the titles are flipped it undermines the whole idea. Triple H hasn’t proven he is better than the wrestlers on Smackdown. CM Punk hasn’t proven he is better than the wrestlers on Raw. Instead, the titles are essentially props – shiny belts to fight over but that don’t have any fundamental meaning. Even if fans aren’t consciously thinking about this, I think it really undermines the ability to sell the company’s title matches.

Well, that’s Raw. I’ve got a couple of things to plug this week. First, I’ve got a new piece up at http://www.mmapayout.com discussing the most important fighters to the business of mixed martial arts. I think it’s a really interesting read and I suspect it will spark some debate. Part I is up now and part II will be up tomorrow.

Second, there’s lot of UFC 86 coverage by me this week at CBSSports.com. Coming up is a piece on the Quinton Jackson-Forrest Griffin fight, as well as the staff preview featuring picks from myself and other writers. Then I will be back live blogging from Octagonside in Vegas Saturday night with all the preliminary results and thoughts from the card. That was well received last time, so please check it out at the CBS MMA section on Saturday.

Finally, I want to close by making mention of the passing of James Melroy, a writer for the Long Beach Press Telegram. James was an avid wrestling and MMA fan, and was helpful and kind to me when I moved to Los Angeles. He was a funny and smart guy, and he passed away way too early. I’m going to miss him a lot. You can read more about James here: http://origin.presstelegram.com/news/ci_9723217